Pratham, a well-known Non-Profit Organization has released the Annual Status of Education Report 2019.

The report shared several key insights and interesting observations about the state of education, especially school-level education in the country.

One of the big debates in early childhood education is on children’s “school readiness” and whether early childhood education provides them with the requisite skills to cope with the school curriculum.

A vast literature exists on the importance of certain cognitive abilities that are supposed to be developed during the years children spend in pre-school, so that they are “ready” when they enter school in grade one.

Pratham’s ASER Report 2019:

  • According to a brief analysis, Pratham’s ASER Report 2019 showcases parents’ choice of school when it comes to education of their students.
  • This is an annual survey that aims to provide reliable annual estimates of children’s schooling status and basic learning levels for each state and rural district in India.
  • ASER has been conducted every year since 2005 in almost all rural districts of India.
  • ASER is the largest citizen-led survey in India. It is also the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes available in India today.
  • In 2019, ASER aims to shine the spotlight on the early years, reporting on the schooling status as well as on a range of important developmental indicators for young children in the age group 4 to 8 across 26 districts in the country.

Parents exhibit a Unique Bias:

According to the report, parents prefer private schools for education of boys while girl students are primarily sent to government schools to get basic education.

The ASER 2019 report states that parents exhibit a unique bias when it comes to selection of schools for their children.

The report shows that parents are more likely to opt for a private school when selecting a school for boys while government schools are primary choice of parents when it comes to girl’s education.

Among four-five-year-old children, 56.8% of girls and 50.4% of boys were enrolled in government schools or preschools, whereas 43.2% of girls and 49.6% of boys were enrolled in private preschools or schools, the survey found.

The gap in enrolment between boys and girls is larger among 6-8 year olds, with 61.1% of all girls versus 52.1% of all boys in this age group going to a government institution.

Highlights of the report

  • Only 16% of children in Class 1 in 26 surveyed rural districts can read text at the prescribed level, while almost 40% cannot even recognise letters
  • Only 41% of these children could recognise two-digit numbers.

Private schools ahead

  • Of six-year olds in Class 1, 41.5% of those in private schools could read words in comparison to only 19% from government schools.
  • Similarly, 28% of those in government schools could do simple addition as against 47% in private schools.
  • This gap is further exacerbated by a gender divide: only 39% of girls aged 6-8 are enrolled in private schools in comparison to almost 48% of boys.
  • The report also found that a classroom could include students from a range of age-groups, skewing towards younger children in government schools.

Need of ASER 2019 ‘Early Years’:

  • The report underlined the need to focus on the early years to improve the basics of education.
  • focus on the “breadth of skills” and activities that strengthen cognitive skills rather than formal subject-learning in the early years may generate substantial benefits for later academic performance.
  • India is home to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, which is among the largest and oldest public sector initiatives for early childhood development in the world.
  • India has developed additional important schemes, policies and frameworks, such as the National Early Childhood Care and Education (NECCE) Policy (2013); the National Early Childhood Care and Education Curriculum Framework (2014).
  • The draft Framework for Implementation of Samagra Shiksha (Integrated Scheme for School Education), which for the first time brings the pre-primary stage under the same umbrella as all other levels of schooling.
  • Worldwide research tells us that lack of access to an appropriate environment and activities means that many children do not have the skills and abilities expected when they enter school, and therefore have difficulty coping with the school curriculum.
  • In order to ensure that the needs and abilities of young children move into the centre of current debates on educational policy and practice in India, evidence needs to speak to and be understood by a much wider set of actors – parents and community members as well as policy makers and early childhood development professionals.

Three trends in ASER-2019 data

  • First trend: Scope for expansion of Anganwadi network.
    • Expansion network: There is considerable scope for expanding Anganwadi outreach for three and four-year-old children.
    • All-India data from 2018 shows that slightly less than 30 per cent children at age three and 15.6 per cent of children at age four are not enrolled anywhere.
  • Second trend: Under 6 students in class I.
    • ASER 2018 data show that 27.6 per cent of all children in Std I are under six.
    • It is commonly assumed that children enter Standard I at age six and that they proceed year by year from Std I to Std VIII.
    • The Right to Education Act also refers to free and compulsory education for the age group six to 14.
    • However, the practice on the ground is quite different.
  • Third trend: There are important age implications for children’s learning.
    • Association with learning output: ASER-2019 indicate the higher learning output associated with age in the same class.
    • In Std. I, the ability to do cognitive activities among seven-eight-year olds can be 20 percentage points higher than their friends who are five years old but in the same class.
    • In terms of reading levels in Std. I, 37.1 per cent children who are under six can recognise letters whereas 76 per cent of those who are seven or eight can do the same.

Determinants of learning outcomes

  • The ASER report shows that a large number of factors determine the quality of education received at this stage, including the child’s home background, especially the mother’s education level; the type of school, whether anganwadis, government schools or private pre-schools; and the child’s age in Class 1.
  • More than a quarter of Class 1 students in government schools are only 4 or 5 years old, younger than the recommended age.
  • The ASER data shows that these younger children struggle more than others in all skills.
  • Permitting underage children into primary grades puts them at a learning disadvantage which is difficult to overcome,” said the report.

Role of Mothers

  • Among the key findings of ASER 2019 is that the mother’s education often determines the kind of pre-schooling or schooling that the child gets.
  • The report says that among children in the early years (ages 0-8), those with mothers who had completed eight or fewer years of schooling are more likely to be attending anganwadis or government pre-primary classes.
  • With 75% women in the productive age group not in the workforce, they can be better engaged in their children’s development, learning and school readiness.

Key suggestions made by the report

  • ASER found that the solution is not to spend longer hours teaching children the 3Rs.
  • Counter-intuitively, the report argues that a focus on cognitive skills rather than subject learning in the early years can make a big difference to basic literacy and numeracy abilities.
  • The survey shows that among Class 1 children who could correctly do none or only one of the tasks requiring cognitive skills, about 14% could read words, while 19% could do single digit addition.
  • However, of those children who could correctly do all three cognitive tasks, 52% could read words, and 63% could solve the addition problem.

Focus on productive learning

  • ASER data shows that children’s performance on tasks requiring cognitive skills is strongly related to their ability to do early language and numeracy tasks,” says the report.
  • This suggests that focussing on play-based activities that build memory; reasoning and problem-solving abilities are more productive than an early focus on content knowledge.
  • Global research shows that 90% of brain growth occurs by age 5, meaning that the quality of early childhood education has a crucial impact on the development and long-term schooling of a child.

Way forward

  • Understanding the children: Understanding the challenges that children face when they are young is critical if we want to solve these problems early in children’s life.
  • Providing for developmentally appropriate skill: Instead of focusing on the pre-school years as the downward extension of school years there is a need for providing developmentally appropriate skill in these years.
  • Pedagogy: On the pedagogy side reworking of curriculum and activity is urgently needed for entire age band of four to eight.
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